Exeter baseball top of Ozark 7
Tigers win first conference championship since 1992
The Exeter baseball team did something this season it had not done in nearly 30 years — win a conference championship.
The Tigers went undefeated in the Ozark 7 this season, winning its first outright conference title since 1992.
“We were happy with the season overall,” said Matt Tripp, Exeter coach and Ozark 7 Coach of the Year. “We had a couple goals going in — win the conference and win districts. I actually thought we had a better chance to win districts, but that flip-flopped on us. To win the conference title undefeated was just the icing on the cake for us.”
Tripp said he thinks a big reason for the success is continuity within the program, as he has reached a point in Exeter now where all the players have come through his middle and high school systems.
“I’m not claiming to be the greatest coach ever, but things are finally coming together,” he said. “This is my fifth year in the program, and I did middle school for two years prior to that, so all these kids have been in my program now. That breeds a familiarity with the way we play the game, knowing where are strengths are and knowing how to use them. Things are clicking and going in the right direction.”
Tripp said the team also improved throughout the season, losing only one game in May prior to an 8-1 loss to Billings in the Class 1, District 5 championship on May 19.
“We had a couple freshmen starting for us that ended up being key for us down the stretch,” he said. “One of them, our right fielder Aaron Beck, we moved to the outfield a few weeks into the season. He was batting below .100, and when we moved him, he finished the season up with a .288. He was named All-District because another coach picked out a stellar play he had made at second from right field. He is a perfect example of what we talk about with the team clicking.”
Exeter’s freshman catcher, Zach Lee, also played exceptionally well, according to Tripp.
Leaving due to graduation will be the Tigers’ top hitter and pitcher, Ozark 7 Player of the Year Hank Woods.
“He was our best hitter and had three homers on the year, including one walk-off grand slam,” Tripp said. “He has plenty of talent to play at the next level and would have some options. He also has 100 total strikeouts on the season.”
Other seniors include first baseman Clayton Rose, center fielder Dakota Vasey, left fielder Dylon Shaw, third baseman Kris Allen and team member Jamison Nichols.
“Clayton was a middle-of-the-lineup hitter that came on strong at the end of the season,” Tripp said. Dakota got some postseason honors and was a player who would catch everything in the outfield for us. Dylon did a solid job for us in the outfield, too.
“Kris was a phenomenal outfielder who we moved to third base, and it says a lot about him for how he did with me asking him to play out of position as a senior. Jamison didn’t see a lot of varsity time, but he’s been in the
program all the way and will be greatly missed.”
Where the graduates are vacating, Tripp said underclassmen are ready to fill gaps.
“Corey Hilburn is a junior and was our second-best hitter,” he said. “He kind of cooled off as the year went on but hit well above .300. He played shortstop for us and was solid throughout the year. He also pitches, and he didn’t play in the fall so I think he was a little slow coming back. But, he has committed to this summer and this fall, and I think he has the potential to be just as dominant as Hank was on the mound next year.”
Tripp said Lee and Beck will be big contributors next season as sophomores, as will second baseman Gretzky Lee.
“Aaron is a huge kid, just built like a tank,” Tripp said. “For him and Zach to do what they did this year as freshmen is phenomenal. Gretzky is the kind of guy you wouldn’t mind having in a fox hole with you. He just busts his hump everywhere.
“Trenton Raney will compete for an outfield spot for us, Levi Gautney will compete for first base and has some pop in his bat, and Morgan Zinn is a quick athlete that could get an outfield spot. Also, Cooper Patterson was our DH for a third of the season and did exactly what we asked by putting the ball in play, so we know he has a bat for us.”
Tripp is also excited about his incoming freshmen — all eight of them.
“I’ve been waiting four years for this group of eighth-graders to come up,” he said. “Three of them probably would have started varsity for me this year if they were freshmen, and for about five or six, baseball is the main sport and they play all the time. Their middle school team lost just one game all season long, so they are used to winning, and they want to win.”
Exeter finished the season 14-10, and Tripp said another highlight was winning its home tournament in March, which was a first for the team.